Recently I wrote about how I developed and launched an e-commerce store in the middle of quarantine last year. I described the process of getting from idea to tangible product - but upon reflection I realized that starting a new business or project teaches you things that reading books and listening to podcasts simply won’t.
Building anything is hard, and I learned much more in a year working on Opus Objects than I ever thought I would. New ventures of any kind require sacrifice, vulnerability, and moxie.
But they also require being aware of when you’re in the middle of a “teachable moment". So many times I was fumbling with the question of what to do next or how doing X might unblock Y. And so many times the venture itself found a way to give me the right answer.
Everyone likes to give their opinion
In the early days, I was amazed how many people I approached about my idea that were receptive to chatting it out.
Most of the time I really was looking for honest, constructive feedback. Shit all over my idea. Poke holes in the business strategy. Just give me something.
And 95% of the time, people gave me real feedback. They said things like “That’s cool! It reminds me of X,” “Oh I know someone working on Y that’s pretty similar.” “I would definitely buy something like that, and I think you could partner up with Z content creator and do something really cool” All this feedback helped me:
- Validate my idea (Is this something people would find interesting)
- Size the potential market and who this would be relevant to
- Consider new marketing and product ideas
- Build my own confidence so I didn’t quit before I even started
5% of the time people simply complimented me or the concept/prototype/website and moved on. It was actually more helpful if someone I asked said they hated it and described why they wouldn’t use it or what negative feeling came from their gut. That way I could either (a) make improvements or (b) discard their thoughts and conclude that it wasn’t for them in the first place.
Accountability needs structure
Early in the process of a new project, you’ll likely struggle with making consistent progress. I definitely did. You’ll have good days and bad, where some days you’re full of energy thinking about your idea - and some days you’re completely absorbed in something else.
Given this was something I wasn’t 100% focused on, it was easy to push things and procrastinate. If you’re also starting something part-time, you’ll come up with nuanced excuses for rescheduling a working session or not writing down what you need to do next.
When I buckled down and decided to go for it, the best thing I did was schedule a recurring meeting to connect for 30 minutes with a friend on my progress with the project and my goal for the following week. Sometimes these meetings were electric with updates and excitement, sometimes they were confessionals of how lazy I was and how this might not work. The point is to create an accountability mechanism - a recurring meeting with a friend, a scheduled email that has to go out, a changelog on a website that needs to updated X times per week or month - and watch how responsible you are all of a sudden.
Time kills progress
This may seem counter-intuitive, but similar to the sales mantra “time kills all deals”, I found that the most productive I was working on Opus was when I was running around doing things rather than sitting down and trying to plan. Patience is crucial when working on anything new, but impatience is crucial as well. If you ever find yourself waiting for someone to get back to you, trying to figure out the best approach, or doing any other non-active task, drop everything and figure out what can you do this second that will help move things forward.
Prime example is when I wasted a couple weeks going back and forth with my designer Julian on the margins and colors of my calendar design in Illustrator instead of just getting it printed out and iterating. Move slowly when planning and considering big changes. But once the direction is set, never be inactive.
As the infinitely fascinating Medici would say, festina lente.
I consider myself an optimist but was still floored by the response when I rolled out Opus in June 2020. I told a close friend that my goal was to have one person I know buy my product. I hoped I would get a ton of likes and shares on social, but I knew that the only real measure of a business, especially a new one, was closed sales.
When the dust cleared after launch, I had obliterated my original goal. 45 friends, former colleagues, and people I’d met along the way had purchased my product, and tons more had engaged with my posts or texted me personally. I never planned to launch something for the “clout” or to get well wishes from friends, but it was by far the most rewarding part of the experience. I sent out a survey to my early customers and came to find out that 80% of the people who had supported wanted to do just that. They could care less for the product itself or the problem it solved. They simply saw something cool, believed in me, or wanted to show love to someone who built something.
I often think about the line from Mad Men’s Roger Sterling: "Half the time, this business comes down to ‘I don’t like that guy.'” I think it applies the other direction as well, and for life more broadly. People want to support people they like, respect, or care about in some way.
Some things aren’t for you
With new projects it's easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day operations and dreaming about what you want it to become. It can be a high. For an entrepreneurial person like me it is addicting to think about new product ideas, content to create, or other strategies related to your business or hustle.
But it feels much different to take a step back and say - how is this going? Is this still fun to work on? Or to put it more spiritually - Is this filling my cup or taking from it?
I can't say if I ever formally asked myself those questions but I know that after almost a year I just wasn't driven to take my venture forward anymore. I had done interviews with friends for the blog and.. never posted them. I had failed to post on social media for months. I had a mockup for a second product and never emailed a supplier for a quote. Sometimes inaction and inability to complete things tell you exactly where you're at.
Because of everything I put into my brand, and how much I enjoyed having a real side project, I wrestled for a long time about whether to keep it, kill it, or pivot it. But in the end I already knew it was over, I was just putting off its death.
Whatever you're working on - whether you've launched or not - make sure you take time to evaluate and reflect. Don't just consider the hard results like revenue or followers, consider your own fulfillment and happiness.
Consider how much RAM the computer that is your subconscious spends thinking about your project, and is it worth that?
I am extremely proud of working on OpusObjects.com and I want to thank everyone who supported along the way. It meant the world to me then, and it does now. I hope this post gives Opus the sendoff it deserves.
I will continue The Search For What's Next.
This couldn't be the end without a "Going Out of Business" sale. If you, a friend, or someone you know thinks they'd find value in an Opus calendar, I'm selling my remaining inventory at cost - so use code THANKYOU70 for 70% off. And thank you if you do.